I have known about the Tate-Labianca murders for a long time, probably way longer than I should. When I was a little kid, my cousin Keri stayed with us for a bit and had a book report for school that she chose to do on Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi and Curt Gentry. Bugliosi was the lead prosecutor on the Manson family case, and there I was at about five or six years old, hearing about this crazy murderer Charlie Manson. To be fair, Manson has always been in the public eye. The news and entertainment media LOVED him, as can be evidenced from the hundreds upon hundreds of news items found if you simply Google his name.
It’s now 2019, which means that on August 9th, it will have been 50 years since Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, and Patricia Krenwinkle killed Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Wojciech Frykowski, and Steven Parent under Manson’s instructions.
The thing is, most of us know a lot about Manson and “The Family.” There are two films entitled Helter Skelter, one a tv movie from 1974 and another an independent film from 2004. Additionally, there’s Manson, My Name is Evil —a 2009 film that focuses on Family member Leslie Van Houten. There are scores of other films or television shows that directly speak about Manson or The Family, or were very heavily influenced by them.
“We don’t often hear about things from the victim’s perspective, and that is where The Haunting of Sharon Tate differs from most of these Manson Family films…”
We don’t often hear about things from the victim’s perspective, and that is where The Haunting of Sharon Tate differs from most of these Manson Family films. We only ever see Charles Manson in this film a few times. If that throws you off the trail of wanting to see this, then sorry, but it really shouldn’t. The film focuses on the budding actress and wife of not-yet-creepy Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate. Sharon had starred most famously in Valley of the Dolls but also appeared in a handful of other films and television shows.
A pregnant Tate (Hilary Duff), having returned from London returns to her home in September 1969. Waiting for her is husband Roman Polanski’s, best friend Wojciech Frykowski (Pawel Szajda) and his girlfriend Abigail Folger (Lydia Hearst), heiress to the coffee fortune, house sitting while they were gone. They would watch over Sharon until Polanski returned from working on a film in Europe. Polanski was initially supposed to return with Sharon but didn’t. At the beginning of the film, Tate’s ex-boyfriend and current stylist Jay Sebring (Jonathan Bennett) was driving her to the Cielo Drive house from the airport.
The rest of the film focuses on the events of August 1st, 1969 to the fateful morning of August 9th. The Haunting of Sharon Tate supposes that Tate had an inkling of something bad happening in the air. She has several nightmares that play out the factual details of the murders as they’re written in many accounts. Tate is trying to convince all of the others in the house that something is wrong, but they think she is just having trouble sleeping because of her pregnancy and being away from her husband.
“…devote a little bit of time on the victims instead of continuing to romanticize a psychopath, no matter how interesting Manson was.”
Let me just say that the last half of the movie is pretty much entirely fictional, but seen through a very interesting lens on some heavy subjects such as fate, life, death, and reincarnation. It suggests that the “Haunting” Tate experiences might be from…herself? The film takes a lot of poetic license with the truth of these events, and certainly piss off history buffs and Manson fanatics. The fact of the matter is that the film never really claims to be a biopic. Some moments are a bit corny, such as subliminal messages coming from a tape played backward. However, I find the spin that writer/director Daniel Farrands puts on one of the most gruesome murders in history, will make all who see The Haunting of Sharon Tate examine the Tate murders, and maybe our own lives differently.
There are some heartbreaking sections of this film and the murders are depicted as gruesomely as they were committed. However, the moment I was most emotional was during the sections where an interview from a year before that shows Duff as Sharon in black and white, talking about psychic experiences. She says “I think my whole life was cut out by fate, I never planned anything that happened to me.” Little did she know how true this was. I’m very happy that a film attempted to capture these crimes from the side of the victims, with all of the other Manson related films coming out over the course of this year and the next. I’m hoping that they take a cue from The Haunting of Sharon Tate and devote a little bit of time on the victims instead of continuing to romanticize a psychopath, no matter how interesting Manson was.
The Haunting of Sharon Tate (2019) Written and directed by Daniel Farrands. Starring Hillary Duff, Jonathan Bennett, Lydia Hearst, Pawel Szajda, Ryan Cargill, Bela Popa, Fivel Stewart, Tyler Johnson, Ben Mellish.
9 out of 10 stars